This article describes why traditional training and learning interventions fail to shorten time to proficiency of employees. It investigates how 4 major speed blockers, 15 key inefficiencies, and over 100 indicators are found in traditional training and learning design that elongate time to proficiency.
The value of training in skill acquisition and knowledge acquisition is undeniable. In fact, training is the first line of defense in organizations, more often the only line of defense. As a training leader, I embarked on my doctorate research with a research objective to explore how organizations have successfully reduced time to proficiency of the workforce. I approached 85 project leaders known to have reduced time to proficiency of employees successfully.
I collected over 66 project cases through 74 in-depth interviews. I started with a research question of how/what training and learning strategies they have used to shorten time to proficiency. To my shock almost pretty much at the beginning of the study, I found a few things:
- The training and learning were a very small part of the overall complex problem of reducing time to proficiency in the workforce.
- In almost every project case it was found that training and learning interventions (the way those were designed) in fact acted as a major bottleneck to speed to proficiency, instead of a popular belief that it was designed to support accelerated performance in the first place. That was surprising. Almost all the project leaders shared a range of bottlenecks and hindrances which came on the way to accelerating the proficiency when training is used as the primary mechanism.
The responses from over 66 project cases showed 4 major categories of such bottlenecks that provide very comprehensive detail on how training should NOT be designed if the goal is to accelerate proficiency or performance.
A Typical Traditional Training Model
It is vital to explain the traditional training model with an example. A project leader gave a relevant account of a typical traditional model.
For a job role of financial services executive engaged in upselling of financial products higher up to the executive line, a traditional training approach before any initiative to shorten time to proficiency was put in place, and looked like this:
“Though when I arrived on-site, we did an analysis of their training program. And what we learned was that they would spend about six weeks in a classroom-based experience that literally was about fifty-fifty turned on lectures and then hands-on use of the IT tools at their place. But the real challenge was that there was no expectation of the employee to pass any type of assessment, or to measure, to have anything measurable at all. Picture that world [sic] that you could sit in this room for six weeks and sleep during [the] class, and at the end of the day, you were able to survive the six weeks. …What value were you really getting from these folks when they finished their training? And now they go up to the next phase of their program, which was an on-the-job coaching program. …
So as part of the problem that we looked at, we identified that classroom training itself did not have any foundation. So there weren’t lots of plans or any type of structured guides. It was primarily one-way. … So it could change drastically from instructor to instructor.
Then finally, there wasn’t enough hands-on usage of the tools, so a lot of times they would come out of the classroom and wouldn’t even be doing any observation. But when they finished their training program, they have forgotten what they learned in the classroom and almost had to re-learn how to use technology. There was more focus in the classroom on the product than the technology that was being used.
And the third part was they learned that the coaches themselves in the second part [on-the-job] part] of the program never changed. So if we had somebody who was getting bitter or using this as a way of not being on the phone [and] was rather as a side effect of “Okay, I do this, I don’t have to take customer calls.” There was a gap in terms of being able to properly coach employees on what to do in certain situations” [Project Leader].
Other project cases exhibited similar accounts of training models that organizations were using, and these models were analyzed for patterns on why those were not leading to accelerated proficiency. Such a model was deemed as “copied from the academic world to corporate settings.” Invariably, analysis of every project case led to the observations that some inefficiencies in the traditional or conventional training models either hampered shortening time to proficiency or were the leading cause of a long time to proficiency. There was little to no evidence on if and how traditional training models supported, enabled, or speeded up the proficiency.
It turns out that traditional training models (particularly taken from academic settings, like the one described above and shown in Figure 1) do not really lead to accelerating proficiency; instead, such models add to a longer time to proficiency problem.
Figure 1: Traditional training curve leads to a longer time to proficiency